March 12, 2017 “Money” – Matthew 6:19-24
March 12, 2017 – Second Sunday in Lent
You may have heard that Jesus talked more often about money than He talked about any other single subject. That factoid would certainly justify a sermon on money… if it were true. Like several “facts” Christians, and preachers, take for granted, it needs checking and it just doesn’t hold water. But it’s still true that Jesus did sometimes talk about money and this week’s text is one of those times.
In verses 19 and 20, Jesus is talking about more than money. “Treasures” obviously includes the sort of stuff that moths and rust can ruin and which thieves can come and steal. In other words, He’s not just talking about money, but about all the possessions we’ve bought with our money and need to find safe places to store. Jesus compares those possessions to the sort of stuff we may store in heaven with God.
You’ve heard me talk often about one of our extended family’s treasures on earth. My cousins and I have a run-down cabin in beautiful Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona. Just this past Friday when Carl mentioned catching mice, I remarked that our cabin belongs to the mice about 95% of the time. They just let us borrow it whenever we visit.
Some of you have had your own vacation homes and know what it’s like. You go there and spend much of your time doing maintenance. Last time I was at the cabin, I replaced a couple rotten boards in the deck behind it. Other times I’ve had to repair plumbing or paint trim or get the septic tank cleaned out. In specific relation to what Jesus said, we’ve got all the wool blankets packed in plastic storage containers to keep out moths and there is rust in the pipes. No thief has broken in yet, but I worry about it often.
Treasures on earth are just like Jesus said. I’ve seen the Parthenon in Athens with scaffolding all around it as workmen repaired acid rain damage to the most magnificent structure on earth. Polluted air is crumbling the Sphinx and the pyramids of Egypt. We visited Mt. Rushmore and saw cracks growing in that massive monument to our nation’s history. The Mona Lisa has cracked and faded and is now kept under glass in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.
That rot in the siding on your house and the dents and rust on your car and the crack in your favorite flower vase are exactly what Jesus is talking about. That stuff can’t last. It should be obvious, but we keep trying to make it last. Some of you have experienced the trauma of a burglary, of thieves breaking in to steal as Jesus said. It’s horrible, but that also is a reminder of what He’s talking about here.
In the old movie, “Moonstruck,” the philandering Cosmo suddenly enters midlife crisis. He becomes deeply aware of the fact that he is getting older and that sickness and death may be just around the corner. He begins to do nothing but look in the mirror at his wrinkles, worry about the state of his health, and sit in his chair and stare out the window. Finally, his poor wife Rose confronts him in the hallway, and says, “I just want you to know no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.” And Cosmo says, “Thank you, Rose.” And we ought to tell our Lord Jesus thank you for saying the same thing to us.
In a story about a rich man with many barns, Jesus told it to us. We’re all going to die. Here He is says that all we own is all going to fade, fracture and fail us. Our own bodies are wearing out. By the end of this century almost every one of us sitting here will be gone from the earth? And many of us will be forgotten. So what difference does that make? What difference should it make?
Jesus is helping us grasp the fact that life is temporary should drive us to what is truly permanent. If buildings fall down, if clothing is eaten by moths, if cars rust, if we ourselves grow weak and sick, then find possessions guaranteed to last. If every public offering on earth is going to bottom out one day, then find a better stock in which to invest.
Our minds grasp this fact, no matter how distasteful it is. Life is short, what we own is wearing out, and it is only reasonable to seek treasures which last longer. Our problem is that we try to find those treasures by following our hearts. And marketers relentlessly try to sell you the treasure your heart desires.
When is the last time you saw a commercial which appealed to your intelligence? Advertisers boldly, shamelessly, and without apology, appeal to all the emotions we carry within us. Ads appeal to your lust with pretty faces and luscious bodies drinking that beer or modeling that lipstick. They appeal to your pride, implying that the really hip people wear these jeans or drink this coffee. And sadly, they tap into your fears, telling you that auto insurance or this house alarm is truly going to protect you.
Even love goes up for sale as you watch parents and children texting each other on the latest iPhone or friends bonding together as they ride cool bikes or scooters.
Over and over, day after day, our ears and eyes take in the same message, always directed to our innermost parts. Advertisers want to open our wallets and purses by first opening our hearts. We are told it so often that we almost cannot help but believe that our treasure should follow our hearts.
That is why, when we come to the heart of this text, when we read verse 21, the words you and I hear Jesus saying are just the opposite of what He really said. We are so filled with the idea merchants have sold us, that we actually hear and believe Jesus to be saying, “For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.” And the words of our Lord are transformed into another sales campaign.
Because we have gotten Him backwards, you and I expect the living and almighty God to sell us. We put Christ the Lord alongside all the other pitches we hear and expect His pitch to be a good one. “Appeal to us, Son of God. Make us feel your message. Move us with your righteousness. Touch us with your compassion. Stir us with your devotion. Lift our emotions, and then we will allow you to lift our cash. Take our hearts, Lord Jesus, and then we will gladly give you our treasure.”
It’s not what He said. To imagine that Jesus taught you to put your treasure where your heart is, is to turn His whole mission upside down. Though it may never come to the surface of our thoughts, what we are really thinking is that Christ, just like everyone else, is trying to win our hearts so that He may win our bank accounts. We could not be much more deceived. The Lord Jesus has no desire at all for your money. What use could He possibly have for it? What good would it do Him? Would He establish a heavenly credit union or go public with shares of eternity? Money is not what He is after.
God sent His beloved Son Jesus into the world after only one thing. You. He did not come to claim money or buildings or any of the other impermanent fixtures of this world. He came to seek and save that which can live forever. You. Jesus did not go to the Cross and then rise from the dead to redeem securities and bonds. He offered His life in order to redeem you.
Jesus wants you. He wants to love every part and parcel of you. His eternal desire and plan is for you to know and love Him at the very deepest level of your own being. That is why what He wants, what He has always wanted, is your heart—not your treasure, but your heart. For that reason, and for that reason alone, He also wants your treasure.
As strange and paradoxical as it might sound to our contemporary consumer ears, Jesus asks us to place our treasure with Him, so that our hearts will follow. He asks us to give up the world’s treasure and seek a heavenly one so that our seeking will lead us right into His arms. He asks us to turn our valuables over to Him so that ultimately our own selves will be turned over to Him.
Which all means that part of the life which God wants for us, the life which in our hearts we really want to have, is the virtue of generosity. The abundant life which Christ Jesus came to bring you is, among all its other characteristics, a generous life. Being generous is the only way to completely give your heart to Jesus. Giving earthly treasures away is a necessary condition for storing heavenly treasures. Without giving, you will be headed in two irreconcilable directions.
In verse 22 Jesus talks about the eye. It is through your eyes that light enters your body. Your eyes receive the light needed to direct the rest of your body. If you have good eyes, the rest of you benefits. You can read, you can drive a car, you can walk through a room easily and quickly. But if your eyes go bad, if there is a bit of darkness hindering the light, your whole body suffers. You can’t read the small print anymore. Driving gets difficult and dangerous. You no longer navigate the furniture without bumping into something. When your eyes are darkened, your whole self is in the dark.
Your heart, says Jesus, is the eye of your soul. It’s either filled with light or with darkness. Giving something away directs your eyes and heart in that direction, upward and outward toward God’s light. “So, if your eye [your heart] is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”
Stashing what you have away in some dark, safe place focuses your heart down and inward toward the darkness. “But if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.” The heart darkened by selfishness steals light from the rest of your life. You will constantly bump into the sorrows brought on by your treasures wearing out, getting lost, or dying. Jesus said, “If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Verse 24 brings it all to a point. “No one can serve two masters.” This is not metaphor any longer. Jesus spoke to everyone in the crowd. Both servants and masters immediately comprehended that you cannot divide your loyalties. It is impossible to have two full-time jobs and do them both well. One employer will get more of you than the other. Even having multiple part-time jobs is often like that. One of those jobs takes priority. In the same way, God and money cannot share you. There is room for only one master of your soul.
It is a matter of direction. My wife Beth loves going to the coast. I’d rather go to the mountains. Living here in the Willamette Valley is ideal because both destinations are nearby. But when we have time to get away we still have to make a choice. We can’t do both at the same time on the same day. It’s either walking on the beach with waves rolling in and the smell of salt in the air, or it’s blue skies over an alpine lake and the scent of sun shining on pine needles. It can’t be both. They are in opposite directions.
The coast and the mountains are both good choices. But God and money are not like that. The life Jesus wants to give you is in one good direction. Amassing a fortune here on earth is in an opposite, wrong direction. You really cannot do both. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 19:24, another place where He really was talking about money, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus knew we need some money. He knew we need food and homes and medicine and all the other stuff that makes human life on earth possible. But He also knew that all that stuff would not last. He wants to give us things that do last. He wants to point our hearts toward Himself, toward His love and grace. So He asked us, as much as it is possible for us, to send our treasure in His direction, so our hearts will follow.
Lent is a good time to think about where we’re storing our treasure, in what direction we are aiming our hearts. Giving up something, especially giving away something to someone who needs it more, is great way to work on getting your directions right, pointing your heart toward some real treasure. I hope you will sit down and think about it soon.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2017 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj